Morton Marcus: County housing and the 2020 Census

Morton Marcus

The 2020 Census tells us Marion and Hamilton counties accounted for 40% of the state’s population growth of persons 18 years and older with 37% of Indiana’s increase in occupied dwelling units from 2010.

Meanwhile, in the last decade, Delaware and Grant counties led the state in both lost population among those 18 and older and a decline in the number of occupied dwellings.

Vacancy rates can be difficult to interpret. A housing unit may be vacant because it has been abandoned or is unsuitable for occupancy yet is still standing. It may be awaiting sale or rental. Or it may be a second home or a seasonal dwelling.

In 2020, Indiana’s vacancy rates were lower in 83 of 92 counties. They ranged from less than 5% in the suburban Indianapolis metro area (Hancock, Hendricks, Hamilton and Johnson counties), to more than 20% in four counties.

Of those four, Steuben (26.9%) and Brown (22.3%) have many seasonal houses. But slow adult population growth in Crawford (0.04%) and White (1.6%) may account for the 26.2% and 22.8% vacancy rates respectively in those rural counties.

Kosciusko County presents a question: While both adult population and occupied housing units in Kosciusko increased by slightly more than the 6.5% and 6.6% statewide rates, why was there an 18.2% vacancy rate, the sixth-highest in the state? Is this a temporary case of recent overbuilding?

Nationally, overcrowding in housing is of declining concern as household size decreases. More people living alone, fewer children and higher incomes have resulted in more space per person. According to a study for the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Affairs, “the rate of overcrowding fell from 2.82% to 2.41% between 1985 and 2005.” In addition, in those same 20 years, households went from an average 740 square feet per person of living space to 916 square feet.

The 2020 Census reported 2.54 persons per occupied housing unit in Indiana, with a high of 3.19 in LaGrange County and a low of 2.34 in Blackford County. This does not mean no families live in overcrowded conditions. Averages easily hide reality, but we don’t have the data, as yet.

In sum, 56 counties had growing adult populations and increased housing units. Likewise, 26 counties saw adult populations fall along with the number of occupied units. That leaves just 10 “contrary” counties where adult population and housing moved in opposite directions.

Lawrence County led Warren, Jennings and Henry in reducing the number of dwelling units while adding to their adult populations. Vigo, Cass and Gibson were among the six counties with decreased adult populations while adding to their number of dwellings.

We’ll know more about population and housing when more data are released.

Morton Marcus is an economist. Reach him at [email protected]. Follow his views and those of John Guy on Who gets what? wherever podcasts are available or at